Nearly 200 women shook the floor of a Kyoto Grand Hotel’s ballroom May 9 as they danced, bid and cheered for a group of models --- many of them friends and colleagues --- walking the fashion runway. “The Gift,” the first annual women’s luncheon and fashion show presented by the St. Francis Medical Center Foundation, raised about $40,000 to support the Lynwood hospital’s Women’s Health initiatives. That includes the acquisition of the Digital Breast Tomosynthesis, a state-of-the-art 3D breast imaging system that will enable St. Francis to be among the 11 advanced mammography centers in the country.

“Women can change anything,” declared Mary Eileen Drees, foundation vice president of development and chief executive officer, who set the spirited tone for the event along with Daughter of Charity Sister Alicia Martin, St. Francis’ senior vice president of mission integration. 

With this event, said Sister Martin, “we honor women who have inspired us, those who are champions in spite of their difficulties and sufferings.”

They were referring to the women who “dedicate their lives to their husbands and children,” to those who “did not become embittered or saw themselves as victims despite being rejected by their families,” and on the contrary, are “gifted by God with great resiliency.” Among the examples cited: St. Louise de Marillac, co-founder of the Daughters of Charity, and St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, the first American saint who founded the Sisters of Charity.

“They were able to channel suffering into a greater good,” continued Sister Martin, noting that St. Louise battled health issues that could have included breast cancer, which was an unknown disease in the late 1600s when she died.

As National Women’s Health Week (May 13-19) was approaching, St. Francis CEO Gerald Kozai (whose wife was among the models) urged the women to make a pledge to schedule a breast screening with their healthcare providers.

“It’s very important that we are conscious of our own health,” he said. He was happy to announce a $100,000 hospital investment in the new technology that will benefit low-income women and their families.

The new imaging system will be part of the new Women’s Imaging Center currently under construction, Kozai said.

St. Francis surgeon Dr. Flaxie Fletcher and Shannon Hadnot, manager of the hospital’s women’s health maternity center --- both among the fashion show models --- expressed their concerns about increased amount of women diagnosed with breast cancer.

“We are to be aware and do what we can to help each other,” they said.

A similar message was delivered by the keynote speaker, Daughter of Charity Sister Alice Marie Quinn, founder-director of the St. Vincent Senior Citizen Nutrition Program, also known as Meals on Wheels. As one who has undergone a mastectomy, the 77-year-old nun’s words resonated with many in attendance.

“God takes care of us,” she said, “but we have to do what we have to --- such as going to the doctor.”

For more information about St. Francis Foundation, go to

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